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pismo beach ca

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3 dead in flash of terror at Pismo Beach Denny'sTHE VICTIMS: A husband and wife are injured and two men killed — one in front of his 5-year-old great-granddaughter.


THE GUNMAN: Police say the suspect looked dazed but calm as he opened fire and then turned the gun on himselfTribune staff reportsThe TribuneIn the moments before one of the bloodiest public shooting rampages in San Luis Obispo County history, the lunchtime crowd was filing into Denny's in Pismo Beach on Wednesday.

Frank Velasquez, 64, a restaurant regular who lived just blocks away in Grover Beach, had come to eat with his wife, LaVina, and 5-year-old great-granddaughter. Harold Hatley, 73, also of Grover Beach, happened to be eating nearby.

The door opened and, police say, a homeless man named Lawrence Edward Woods walked in, muttering and looking dazed. He was carrying two handguns, a semi-automatic and a revolver, and he calmly began shooting within steps of the door.

Velasquez died in front of his wife and great-granddaughter. Hatley died as well. A couple, both 58, were wounded. Then Woods, 60, turned the gun on himself.

At least one bullet broke through a window on the east side of the building.

It was over in seconds, police and witnesses said.

"It was just so quick. He said something, fired and it was over," said a woman who has been a server at the restaurant for 11 years. Visibly shaken, she declined to give her name.

The woman said she heard five or six shots. She was one of two servers in the restaurant at the time.

As the shooting took place, patrons and workers fled to the bathrooms and kitchen to hide, according to police.

Meanwhile, before discovering the gunman was dead, officers surrounded the building and blocked off nearby streets.

It was unclear what might have motivated the gunman, Pismo Beach Police Chief Joe Cortez said.

Cortez said investigators on Wednesday were looking into whether Woods had a documented history of mental illness, as well as whether he had drugs or alcohol in his system. He said a preliminary background check was complete but would not elaborate.

Investigators also are reviewing the restaurant's surveillance-camera tapes in hopes of figuring out why Woods — who has been living out of his car in several locations along the Central Coast — carried out the attack.

He was not related to any of the restaurant patrons or workers, according to police and witnesses, nor did it seem he had a grudge against the diner.

Police searched a white Plymouth Acclaim they say belonged to Woods, but they would not say what they found inside.

Cortez said Woods had a criminal record, but there are no booking records of him in San Luis Obispo County.

The 11-year server at Denny's said she was seating one of the victims when Woods walked in.

"I just turned around and he was firing," she said. "He fired to the right, then he fired and hit the guy directly in front of me."

At that point, she said, "I ran. We ran out the back of the restaurant."

Cindy Tabelin of Stockton said she and her mother were on their way to have lunch with Velasquez, her cousin, when the shooting occurred.

She hadn't yet made it inside.

After the shooting, she sat quietly on a curb in the restaurant parking lot, waiting for authorities to take out his body.

Tabelin said that her cousin's great-granddaughter was physically unharmed, but "she just watched her grandfather get killed."

The two injured in the shooting were a husband and wife, both 58, according to police and medics. They were shot in the buttocks. They were taken to Arroyo Grande Community Hospital and released Wednesday afternoon.

Both Cortez and a hospital spokeswoman declined to identify them.

Restaurant Manager Matthew Cooper referred calls to Denny's corporate headquarters.

"We are shocked and saddened by this tragic incident that occurred today in Pismo Beach, California," the company said in a prepared statement. "This appears to be a random act of violence."

According to spokeswoman Angelica Jimenez, the restaurant was owned by the corporation and has been in operation since 1982.

Denny's is providing professional counseling to those affected.

Marti Anderson of Pismo Beach said she was traveling near the restaurant when she got a phone call from a relative in New Jersey informing her of the shooting.

"A lot of tourists come through here with their families," she said. "It's scary to think this could happen in your hometown




i spent many a nights here.

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